Danford Balch was the original owner and settler of this area. He arrived in Oregon in 1847 and settled his donation land claim in 1850, carving out a space in the forest for a large cabin for himself, his wife, and their nine children. A nearby claim was taken by the Stump family. The two families did not care for each other. In true Shakespearean fashion, Mortimer Stump, the eldest son of the clan, began courting Anna, the oldest of the Balch daughters. Danford, a peaceful man, warned Mortimer to stay away from his fifteen-year-old daughter, but Mortimer paid no heed. When Anna turned sixteen, she and Mortimer ran away to Vancouver, Washington, where they eloped. Two weeks later, Danford took his shotgun and met members of the Stump family, including his new son-in-law, at the Stark Street Ferry. As the ferry was loading, Danford shot both barrels into Mortimer, who died instantly. Danford claimed the shooting was an accident, but was taken to jail, where he waited until the next spring to be tried. The jail being flimsy, he was able to break out. He hid out in the west hills near his farm until July, when he was re-arrested. In August, he was tried and convicted of the murder. On October 17, 1859 he was hanged at a public gallows in front of over 500 witnesses. The creek that runs through the property bears his name because for years after his hanging people still referred to the area as the Old Balch Place.
In 1862, the claim was sold for $5,000 to John Confer, whom Danford's widow soon married. He then sold the property to John H. Mitchell, the attorney (and later US Senator) who was handling the Balch affairs, for $550. Mitchell also bought the children's claim in the land for $5,500. Two weeks later he sold it to the mayor of Portland for $15,000.
The property was eventually acquired by Donald Macleay, a prominent Portland merchant. Macleay was an early real estate developer and an investor in railroads. He was president of the Portland Board of Trade in the 1880s. Macleay, a Scotsman, gave the land to the city in 1897 in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign, but that was not the only reason! It is said that Macleay complained that his taxes on the property were too high and that he would rather give his land to the city for park purposes than pay so much in taxes. The Deputy Assessor, L. S. Maxwell, countered with, "Well, then, why don't you?" Macleay returned to the courthouse three days later with a deed turning the steep, rough gulch of tall timbers into Macleay Park. This was the first true gift of land for parks except for a small portion of Governors Park. One of the provisions of the gift was that "the city shall provide conveyance for carrying patients from the [area] hospitals through the park during the summer." The paths were also widened in order to accommodate wheelchairs. This was done so that hospital-bound people would have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, especially in the heat of summer.
In 1905, Lafe Pence from Denver decided to use a mining device called a flume to wash hillsides along Balch Gulch into Guild's Lake to create fill areas for industrial sites. He caused a great ruckus because he ignored getting permission from the legal landowners, but he partially succeeded in his scheme. A portion of the flume was used as a walkway for many years until it was replaced by a trail.